Toronto, Canada is getting one hell of a fight card Saturday night. UFC 231 is stacked with exciting matchups, two title fights and a partridge in a pear tree. After what seems like a forever of mediocre events, this is the one to get excited for, and by golly, I’m excited.
Before I get too far off track extolling the virtues of this show, let’s get down to the underdogs, the real reason you’re here. I’ve selected four fights I think have great potential to end in upsets. Here’s a brief breakdown of those contests.
Hakeem Dawodu ($8,600) vs. Kyle Bochniak ($7,600)
Dawodu is big, powerful featherweight with a solid kickboxing base. He is still green, though, and Bochniak is a crafty fox who won’t stand in front of him and be a heavy bag for three rounds. Bochniak is light on his feet and has good fight IQ, which could end up frustrating Dawodu. He’s also tough as nails, and against a guy as strong as Hakeem, that will come in handy. It’s going to be a close call, but I’ve got a feeling Bochniak has what it takes to pull off the upset.
Prediction — Kyle Bochniak via Decision
Gunnar Nelson ($8,400) vs. Alex Oliveira ($7,800)
Nelson is one of the most gifted BJJ stylists on the UFC’s roster, and he has shown recently he’s got KO power, as well. The problem with Gunni, though, is he’s often the smaller guy in his bouts, he has been outgrappled before (see Demian Maia fight) and overpowered (see Rick Story fight), and in his most recent contest, he was knocked clean out by Santiago Ponzinibbio. He also has been away for 17 months, which could mean ring rust.
Oliveira is not the most technically sound fighter, by any means, but what he lacks in technique, he makes up for in raw power and a size advantage he enjoys in nearly all his UFC outings. He holds wins over Carlos Condit, Ryan LaFlare, Tim Means, Will Brooks and most recently, Carlo Perdesoli. In his past eight fights, he has just one loss and one NC (TKO over Tim Means overturned due to illegal knees). It’s not my most confident pick, but I just can’t help myself. I’m feeling lucky!
Prediction — Alex Oliveira via TKO
Valentina Shevchenko ($9,400) vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk ($6,800)
First and foremost, Joanna is a steal at $6,800. Absolute best value on the whole card. Listen, Valentina is amazing, and has proven to be durable, and at times, ferocious, but let’s be clear, the beating she put on Priscila Cachoeira had a great deal to do with the fact Priscila was out of her depth against a skilled kickboxer like Valentina. That said, I definitely don’t want to take anything away from “Bullet,” as Shevchenko is an ultra-talented fighter.
Joanna “Champion” Jedrzejczyk is a high-volume pressure fighter who outworks her opponents unless they are named Rose Namajunas, who seems to have her number. She is aggressive, mixes those excellent kicks and punches together into fluid combinations, and will be fighting at a weight she’s more suited to. Not having to make that brutal cut to 115 is going to make a big difference here, I believe.
Perhaps the most important factor is this fight likely will go to a decision, as both women are tough as nails. If it does, Joanna’s volume striking likely will be the factor that puts her into the win column. Valentina is known to have decreasing volume — her fights drag into the later rounds — and judges tend to like active, aggressive fighters who push a furious pace. Those points are hallmarks of Joanna’s style, and I’m hard pressed to pick against her.
Prediction — Joanna Jedrzejczyk via Decision
Max Holloway ($8,300) vs. Brian Ortega ($7,900)
The first thing I want to do here is assume that both men are coming into this fight healthy and unencumbered by disastrous weight cuts and dehydration issues. So, now that both men are 100 percent, let’s discuss why they are both great fighters.
Holloway is a striking machine with excellent takedown defense and great fight IQ. He uses his height and length well and utilizes a stiff jab beautifully. He’s a complete fighter, and you’d have a difficult time finding someone better than him.
Ortega is a masterful grappler, and if this fight somehow ends up anywhere near the floor, it’s going to be a rough night for Holloway. Ortega has been evolving over his past several fights, demonstrating a solid striking game with power and precision. He’s not losing all the rounds until he pulls off a magic trick anymore. I love an evolutionary fighter, and Ortega is showing that his fight game is growing all the time. This was the hardest choice for me, but I’m finding myself leaning toward “T-City” to take the W here.
Prediction — Brian Ortega via Submission
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